I started this article in 2019 and there it sat unfinished on my iPad until a few days ago. The week following the horrific events at our nation’s capital, I was hit with an unexpected, extremely painful curve-ball (a tragedy to me). This event led me to revisit this draft, thinking the concept of these two tips fit for my current situation and need to put my big girl panties back on. So here I am, nearly two years later, making a magical pitcher of margaritas out of limes I didn’t ask for.
I had forgotten how quick and effective this is, and it’s a recipe everyone can use in everyday situations (tragedy, hiccup, roadblock, difficult conversation, whatever it is to you) both big and small.
We all experience it; the universe does not always cooperate with our plans. When this happens, we always have a choice in how we handle it. Taking advantage of a situation that isn’t going your way doesn’t always come first to mind, but it sure works wonders when you shift into the right state of mind.
While this is a real-life example of how I turned an unexpected tragedy (OK, it wasn’t really a tragedy in 2019 but it sure felt it at the time) into an opportunity, and how you can too.
Back in 2019…..
I’d known for a while that my computer needed to be replaced. I’d started the online research and was planning to go to both the Apple and Microsoft stores in the next couple of weeks to look at my options in person. Then, my computer let me know it’s time had come to cross over the rainbow bridge.
Not wanting to let it completely die on me before I got a new one, I packed it up and drove to the mall to visit both of the stores in person. I knew as I left my house, I would need to leave my computer with them for a bit to let them transition my data to the new system. No Problem! I will patiently wait and window shop at the mall while this takes place.
As a consultant and coach, I LIVE on my computer and phone. I’ve regular zoom calls, I write a lot, and am constantly online doing research. My week was already planned out, including the delivery of a proposal to a potential new client. I also had scheduled time to clean up some kinks in my website, and I had a new opt-in I wanted to upload and launch before the end of the week.
Obviously, the universe had different plans for me.
Now I try REALLY HARD not to get upset about things that are out of my control, so when they told me they would need my computer for a few days to complete the transfer of files, I needed to take several deep breaths and let that news sink in. This was a tragedy to me! I wouldn’t be able to get any of these things done by Friday now.
When we receive news that completely derails our plans, we get mean, defensive, blamey, stomp our feet, huff and puff and behave like whatever it is that happened was purposely done to us. We behave like the world is going to come crashing down because we can’t do what we planned to do, and OMG how can this be happening?!?!
We react the exact same way when we receive messages that challenge our belief system. We get mean, defensive, and confrontational instead of empathetic, curious, and innovative. I believe this is one of our biggest failures right now as human beings in conflict.
You’ve been there too, huh? That was me on this day. Well, there is a way to take an unfortunate situation and turn it into an amazing opportunity. That is what I did back then, and it is what I will do now with this new tragedy in my life.
1: First up, get out of your Amygdala!
Our general knee-jerk response to any sort of bad news or something we do not want to hear is that it is something done ‘to us’. We make it all about us instead of getting curious as to how to navigate around the issue. Without getting all science-y on you, when our brain receives new information, any information, we immediately drop it into our amygdala to process it.
While the amygdala plays an important role when it comes to processing emotion and behavior, it is most commonly known for its fear response. We are exposed to a potentially threatening situation or information, the amygdala identifies it as a danger, sends it to the hypothalamus which triggers the fight or flight response.
Disturbingly, for all of us these days, we are being hammered by negative messages 24/7/365 and it is putting all of us into a constant, high-stress state of alert 24/7/365. Humans are not built to handle this kind of stress, nor is it the intent of the amygdala to be on high alert all the time; it’s a complete drain on our body’s hormones and can actually result in both mental and physical ailments.
Every de-humanizing comment you hear, every insult you read on your Facebook feed, every conversation you have that fires you up because it doesn’t align with your personal values or thought process sends you right into your amygdala.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of really good stuff our amygdala does for us. It is involved with the processing of emotions, memories, and motivations and is associated with arousal, autonomic responses, emotional responses, hormonal secretions, memory, and of course, fear.
So how do you get out of your amygdala and instead move into a place where you can navigate around a challenge without the negativity and making it all about you? By retraining your brain to move into a place of innovation, creativity, and empathy you will be better able to navigate the situation and come up with creative solutions.
Now how to get out of the amygdala….
2: Breathe…just breathe….
Ever hear the expression “Inhale Positivity and Exhale Negativity”? It is a great first step. And yes, it really is as easy as breathing.
Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude practitioners have known for years the power of breathing. The first thing you are asked to do when you are having an anxiety attack is to breathe. Even the military teaches breathing techniques. Because they work. Breathing exercises are one of the main ways of quickly getting out of your amygdala and into your prefrontal cortex!
Measured breathing of this sort requires you to concentrate on your breathing and moves you out of your amygdala to a more rational place of thinking. You will be clearer in your head, more creative, and solution-oriented instead of having a knee-jerk reaction that comes from a place of fear and negativity. It is here in a more rational place of thinking where you can create and innovate solutions to your challenges. This is where you can get curious and discover hidden opportunities.
There are apps abound now specifically designed to help one find their Zen. Or if you are like me you will want to create your own practice. I like the box breathing method. The beauty of breathing exercises is you can do them anywhere. I will box breathe before a presentation, or a difficult conversation. I even box breathe before I coach my clients as it allows me to be fully present and curious with them.
How does one begin?
Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four at the top. Exhale for a count of four and hold at the bottom for a count of four. I’ve provided a link with a video here and above for you if you are a visual learner.
That is box breathing. Give it a go for even 2 minutes. Notice how it shifts how you are feeling in your body, your heart rate, and what your thoughts are.
“Really? This sounds so silly”….
Sure does, until you try it and learn it actually works. What did I do without my computer for 4 full days back in 2019? I got out of my amygdala and was able to look at the situation completely differently – and get into action. I took away the intense negativity by shifting how I was looking at the situation (from woes me to what’s the opportunity here).
I took a look at my list of things I’d been putting off and decided which of them I was going to tackle. As a former business owner, I had a significant number of contacts in my phone that needed to be purged. I had started this project three months prior and was only on the letter J. I started to write this blog (on my iPad with a wireless keyboard no less). I called every one of my family members, some of whom I hadn’t talked to in at least two months. I got a haircut (the last one was six months ago!) and gave the dog a bath (I’ll not share how long ago she last had one). Lastly, I spent time on LinkedIn making new connections, sending messages to folks I had not touched in a while, and caught up on blogs and articles I’d saved but just hadn’t had time to read or listen to.
And I did all this from my smartphone and iPad.
My computer was ready that Friday. The world didn’t end. I was way more relaxed at the end of the week than I was on Tuesday when I first went to the store. And I’d checked a lot of stuff off my list (and others that were not) giving me a wonderfully fresh start for a new week. And my house was clean.
The next time the universe throws a wrench into your plans, get out of your amygdala and take the unexpected detour to peaceful productivity and action. The residual benefits you receive will blow you away so much so, you’ll never want to be stuck in your amygdala again.
Unless you encounter a snake…or your house is on fire…then by all means flight it is!!!!
For many, being under a constant state of stress is the only way they know how to be; the concept of being anywhere other than in their amygdala is foreign and unimaginable. For these folks, they live a life of constant pressure and stress. That’s no way to live.
Fortunately, getting out of your amygdala is a teachable skill, and it is life changing! Had I not had this skill to shift out of my amygdala, I am unsure I would have been able to handle the stress of 2020; the pandemic, the election, the civil discourse, or, this last tragic slap in my face I’ve received that I am now successfully navigating.
Developing this skill requires a commitment to exercising muscles in your brain you didn’t even know you had. Think about it. If you go to the gym regularly, you build up strong muscles and enjoy greater endurance and energy. It is the same thing with building the muscles in your brain.
Are you wanting to learn how to quickly get out of your amygdala, too? Through coaching and training, I can show you how. Learning how to shift away from your fear-based responses to the constant assault of negative messages, you will be calmer, less stressed, more relaxed, creative, innovative, and laser-focused in all you do. I am offering a Pilot Training Program for 5 participants beginning March 1, 2021. If you are interested in participating and want to learn more about what to expect, let’s set up a time to speak. Select ‘March Mental Fitness Pod’ for a 45-minute exploratory call.
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